Our Favorite Fun, Memory-Creating Adventures and Family Outings
It starts with an intentional investment in creating shared experiences.
Years ago, a family we were close friends with had to be separated for several months due to a work situation. My friend and her kiddos stayed behind while her husband worked out of state Monday through Friday and flew home for the weekends. She and I had many conversations about the struggles of that season, but one thing that highly impacted Jamin and me was the way they spent their family time. The days that they had all together were few during that season, and they protected that time for adventures together as a family. Rather than letting Saturday be housekeeping and homework day, they took day trips together and made their short time count.
Watching our friends was what laid the foundations for Family Day in our household, a tradition we’ve held since our oldest kids can remember. We reserve one day a week that is just time for our family. We ask ourselves, if this were the one day this week that we all were going to see one another, what adventures would we want to take? What memories do we want to create?
Protecting that time is hard and takes effort. There are seasons we definitely struggle to maintain that standard. Sports games and birthday parties and other events are always competing for the time. If we only did it when it was convenient in our schedule, it would rarely happen. Our kiddos are still young, so time will tell how they remember Family Day. But when I look around at the young adults that I do know who still genuinely enjoy being with their families, a common thread is shared adventures and experiences. Doing things together, just for the sake of creating memories and enjoying one another, seems to cultivate the type of close family culture we hope to have.
Family Day can take on a lot of forms for us; really it’s just whatever everyone in our house enjoys doing. Some of our favorites are listed below. But just a couple of notes: some of these adventures can be daunting with a crew of small children. We absolutely have our limits, and do many of these things in very short stints and with low expectations (ie, we don’t have to actually catch any fish to call it fishing). We feel like it’s better to take a short trip and end on a high note than go too long and have everyone remember how terrible they felt at the end. On the other hand, the trip also doesn’t have to go perfectly for great memories to be made. Remember there was that one time we went to Disneyland and it rained the whole day and we were soaking wet but we got to go on all the rides a bunch of times because no one else wanted to be there in the rain? See what I mean?
Here are some of our favorite ways to spend Family Day:
Amusement Parks, Museums, Zoos or Aquariums
Most often, these types of places will have annual memberships that are pretty low in comparison with single day ticket prices for a family our size. We always get the membership when we can. More than just a financial savings though, being able to go any time also helps with making the trips short and sweet. It’s okay to only spend a happy hour or two in Six Flags when you know you can come back next week if you want to.
If your kids are small like ours, it definitely helps to scope things out before going. Know the rules about bringing food into the park (although most places will let you bring in anything if you have a baby, or allergies). Learn the best attractions for your kids’ ages. Check the weather before you go. Having a sense for what to expect can make a daunting excursion a little more manageable.
Outdoor Adventures (the beach, fishing, state parks, etc.)
Again, try to know what to expect. The beach is fun until it’s 50 degrees and everyone wore their swimsuits. Read reviews about the locations where you’re headed so you know things to prepare for, such as where to find a port-a-potty and which side of the lake lets you park closest to the water.
Baking, Games, or Movie Night
This is our go-to when the weather is bad or when we’ve had been a busy week and everyone is tired. Sometimes low-key is best rather than dragging tired kiddos to big destinations! Play games together, make some brownies and popcorn, and put everyone in their jammies to watch a movie before bed.
Find an online calendar for your area and get to know local events that your family would enjoy. We love seasonal events like Harvest Fairs and Christmas light viewing, but also don’t tend to do well with big crowds, so we choose carefully. Know your family and be realistic about what will be a good fit.
Remember, the ultimate goal is creating memories! It doesn’t always have to be a magical experience, it just has to time together experiencing the same things. Over the years of your children’s lives, even small experiences, when done regularly, will add up to a lot of time and you will not regret the investment!
JAMIN RESPONDS: Absolutely! I don’t think we have any disagreements about any of this! If we’re out together, it’s a good time. I love doing anything with you guys!
tldr: Do anything. Save your money
Sure, I’ll list some things here, but kids just want to be around loving parents. My kids also want expensive things. Those two don’t have to conflict. They really want to go to Disneyland. They also deeply need direct attention from me. As long as those two go together in my head, I’ll be missing the important stuff. We have more parenting posts, but to put my conscience to rest on a list like this, I’ll summarize: My kids need me like I need food. My kids love expensive things like I love a good steak. If I only eat when I can afford a good steak, I’ll starve. If I always save up (work extra hours away from my family) to make great family memories, I’ll be emotionally starving them.
So – after that dark and sobering note, here’s some of my favorite things to do:
1) Beach: We have to drive 3 hours to get to a beach, but we rarely regret it. Just watch out for the traffic on the way back. We usually try to time it so we leave late enough that the kids can sleep. Take jammies and lots of food, a small metal shovel (the plastic ones that come in the sand toys kits are junk!) and lots of nested buckets. They don’t have to be sand buckets – those are bulky and hard to carry. But no matter how many you bring, they will all get used. And if you have extras, your kids will be able to share with other kids. And take a kite. There’s probably a 10% chance that it will go well, but kites are like 83 cents, so take a chance. If it flies, you’ll be a hero for weeks to come.
2) Baking: It doesn’t have to be good. It doesn’t have to be clean. It won’t be. If your goal is to bake something great or to keep the kitchen clean, you’ll wreck the whole thing. These are fun things to do with kids, not clean things to do with kids. In fact, those two are almost always opposed to each other. Granted, at some point the disadvantage of the cleanup outweighs the amount of fun making the mess, so know your threshold and plan accordingly.
3) Rocket League is our favorite video game. Soccer played with remote controlled race cars. Very low skill level required to start. 5 minute timed games, so it has very convenient ending points. “One more round” isn’t the same as “Just let me finish this level,” where ‘this level’ might take another hour to complete.
4) The Donut Shop seems perfect for us, mostly because we never eat donuts, so it’s special. It’s cheap. It doesn’t mess up the house. It’s as quick or as long as we want.
5) Fishing. We are extremely intermediate fishermen! No one knows as medium much as we do about fishing. We know way more than most California families. Also we know basically nothing compared to people who love to fish. So whenever we go with other people, we find a cool way to relate: either we are the tag-along newbies who are eagerly learning new things or we are the experienced pros, showing our friends the ropes. If you’re new, you probably need a fishing license from a sporting goods store (call ahead and ask if they are authorized to sell them) and then ask them where the nearest fishing spots are. Just like cooking, the goal isn’t to succeed. The goal is to mess up together.
Here’s the important part: family day cards. You know what we want to do in the future? Beach and baking and fishing!!! You know what we want to do today? Donuts and video games. So print out your family day cards and let the kids pick them out randomly way ahead of time. The anticipation is the best part. Post the card you pick on the fridge and bring it up all the time so you can all be looking forward to it! This will also give you a chance to prepare. When we ask “What do you want to do today?” a lot of great stuff is already eliminated because we would have to prepare the meals, or bought the tickets or already have left. Also, put the packing list on your family day card so as you repeat your activities, you’re better and better prepared each time.
WENDY RESPONDS: I love your steak analogy. The regular, direct attention really is the most important part. Which also means, undivided attention. You do a great job at not letting work or your phone interrupt family time…something I’ve always been super grateful for!
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